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Take a look at the new Louisiana laws that take effect Jan. 1

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Wallis Watkins / WRKF
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The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge.

When the clock strikes midnight and Louisiana rings in the new year, dozens of new laws will take effect in the state, including a broad expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program, new polling place regulations, expanded access to maternal care in rural communities and limitations on how long prosecutors can hold people in pretrial detention without charging them for a crime.

Of the hundreds of new laws passed by the legislature this spring, only a couple dozen are set to take effect Jan.1. Louisiana laws have an automatic start date of Aug. 1 after they are enacted unless otherwise specified.

Here are some of the highlights of those that take effect Saturday:

Medical Marijuana

Starting Saturday, Louisiana medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to distribute raw, smokable cannabis to patients with a doctor’s recommendation. Up to this point, only processed tinctures, oils, and edible gummies have been allowed.

Act 424 will allow patients to purchase up to two-and-a-half ounces of the cannabis flower from dispensaries every two weeks.

Proponents of the change, including Rep. Tanner Magee (R-Houma) who sponsored the bill, said patients in the state overwhelmingly prefer the raw form of the drug, which is far cheaper than the processed products previously available.

Louisiana has rapidly expanded its medical marijuana program since legalizing the drug for therapeutic use in 2015. Lawmakers recently expanded the medical marijuana program to allow any doctor to grant patients access to the drug, instead of limiting the prescribing privilege to a small list of specialty providers.

Magee and others say the changes help Louisiana’s booming medical marijuana industry keep pace with neighboring states who were slower to legalize the practice but are in the process of standing up programs with a laxer regulatory framework.

Voting

Seven laws taking effect on Saturday pertain to voting. Most of the new laws are minor regulatory additions to the state’s election laws, unlike many of the voting restrictions passed in other states.

Act 12 and Act 16 impose new training requirements of parish elections supervisors and new registrars of voters. Act 397 allows children up to the age of 18 to accompany their parents into the voting booth. Previously law only allowed pre-teens and younger children into the booth. Act 364 expedites the process for removing deceased persons from the voter rolls and empowers the Secretary of State’s office to search obituaries for people who need to have their voter registration cancelled.

Act 13 requires people conducting exit polling outside voting locations and prohibits them from being within 600 feet of the entrance to the polling place. Act 22 extends the maximum amount of time a person may spend in the voting booth from three minutes to six and allows poll workers to provide even more time if there are lengthy constitutional amendments or propositions on the ballot.

Pre-trial Detention

Act 252 by Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) shortened the amount of time prosecutors can hold people in pre-trial detention before formally charging that person with a misdemeanor from 45 days to 30 days.

Louisiana is an extreme outlier for allowing prosecutors to hold people in jail for such lengthy periods without filing formal charges against them. Around the country the typical deadline to file criminal charges is 72 hours. In Louisiana, prosecutors now have 30 days to file misdemeanor charges, 60 days to file most felony charges, and up to 120 days to charge someone with a capital offense life first degree murder, second degree murger or aggravated rape.

The original version of the legislation James proposed last spring would have reduced those amounts to five days for most felonies and misdemeanors and thirty days for capital offenses. The legislation was watered down after the Louisiana Association of District Attorney opposed the bill saying that was too tight a time frame for them to complete their preliminary investigations and file formal charges.

Maternal Care

Act 182 by Rep. Matthew Willard (D-New Orleans) sets up new regulations for midwives and doulas in hopes of expanding expecting mothers' access to maternal care and childbirth services, especially in underserved communities where hospital birthing centers are few and far between.

The law requires health insurance providers to treat midwives like physicians and pay for their services as such. The law also establishes a doula registry board and sets up a framework for doulas to apply to receive reimbursement from health insurance providers.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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